Ancient spring traditions

A detailing of the various mythological and cultural springtime practices from around the world
Ancient spring traditions

In the natural world, the Spring Equinox is an event marking the even distribution of sunlight across the Earth’s equator as day and night reach almost equal lengths. This celestial occurrence marks the beginning of Spring preparations in the northern hemisphere, a time of renewal and growth that holds deep significance, particularly in past and ongoing traditions of cultures from around the world. 

Now and in ancient times, Spring has been associated with the hope for the possibility of new beginnings to flourish under a warming sun and the prospect of vibrant, colorful flowers. As the world emerges from the depths of a cold, winter slumber, the Earth is revived and a period of rebirth consumes it. It is a display of nature’s ability to regrow itself after hardship and allows farmers to start the new growing season. In many cultures, Spring is not only a time for fertile soil and developing crops but also for the personal development of the individual. Humans often regarded Spring as a transformative power capable of bringing about fertility and success to their communities. For people of the past, the arrival of Spring was even a highly spiritual experience and was often acknowledged and commemorated with a bounty of celebrations, sacrifices, and rituals. 

Over time, many cultures have developed and practiced various ritualistic and ceremonial celebrations in honor of Spring. In ancient Babylonia, a festival known as Akitu would be held each year after the Spring Equinox during which statues of their gods were marched throughout the streets and the Babylonian creation myth was reenacted. In Greece, the traditional festival of Anthesteria was held in honor of the god of wine, Dionysus; however, it was also a time to ceremoniously banish malignant spirits known as the Keres. Furthermore, in a rite of passage-like practice, young toddlers would be adorned with floral headdresses to celebrate their growth from infancy. In looking at the past, ancient Rome had an overt abundance of springtime rituals and practices. Some of these include:

  • Cerealia- A seven-day festival lasting from mid to late April in which live foxes with torches attached to their tails were released into a Roman stadium at night for the mythological purpose of giving warmth and purification to newly growing crops. The roots of the foxes lie in the tale of a fox stealing chickens from a farm on which a boy chased him away with fire, subsequently setting crops sacred to the goddess Ceres on fire.
  • Parilia- This festival was held in honor of the deity of the protection of flocks and livestock, Pales. There, there would be a ceremonious cleansing of farmers and their animals, including a washing and decorating of the flocks of animals or their stalls. Finally, participants would jump over a bonfire three times to complete the process.
  • Floralia- This was a celebration of the Roman goddess Flora and included the Ludi Florales, a series of games and shows with participants wearing floral headdresses, after which animals would be released in a stadium and beans would be spread for vitality. 

There is an enumeration of symbols that have historically been used in recognition of spring, with some of these including baby animals, hatching eggs, and blooming flowers. However, one of the most notable symbols is that of the hare or rabbits. The nocturnal hare has ties to Celtic lore and is seen as a representation of the cycle of death and resurrection of the moon and nature. Furthermore, the high birth rate of rabbits has also led them to be connected to fertility.  Eggs are frequently viewed as a symbol of the prospect of new life and the Persians even had a tradition of exchanging eggs at the Spring Equinox each year. Lambs have many ties to ancient history, with them frequently being used in rituals as sacrifice due to their representation of gentleness and forgiveness, while chicks are seen to be innocent and a symbol of optimism. Finally, lilies have, across cultures, represented life, death, and renewal amidst the new hopes that accompany spring. They have also held distinct connections to motherhood through the Greek goddess Hera and even Mary from the Roman Catholic Church. 

Regardless of how any one individual in the modern world welcomes the arrival of spring, it is important to recognize the rich history of the past that came together into the world as we know it today. Additionally, there are a collection of deities that were involved in the influence of these traditions. For more information on these gods and goddesses, click here.

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